Stryper - Fallen
It's all a bit hazy, but I believe it was 1985 when I was told about some Christian metal band out of California. They threw bibles out to the crowd at their shows I was told. I was probably listening to "Animal (F**k Like A Beast)" by W.A.S.P. and thinking about how they threw raw meat out to their crowd. Raw meat... now that's metal. But I was a metalhead that refused to miss anything, so I was more than open to give "Stryper with a Y not an I" a try. I went to my local record store (my idea of Heaven) and hunted down The Yellow And Black Attack. A week later I was a card carrying member of the Stryper fan club.
I was huge fan of this band's look, instrumental prowess, melodic edge, and yes, their positive message. It was nice to hear metal that came with an uplifting theme. Metal had never really seen anything quite like Stryper, and the fans welcomed the band into its community with (mostly) open arms.
Even though the band rocked with a ferocity that rivaled some of the heaviest bands of that time, they did always have a lyrical awkwardness for me. Cruising with the windows down and "Jesus is the way" blasting from my cassette deck kind of turned my Camaro into the vacation bible school bus. Michael Sweet's vocals were very high and very clear, and the songs were blatantly religious, which made some of it seem borderline "preachy." But I loved what the band brought to an ever expanding world of metal music.
Fast forward to today.
Stryper is still spelled with a Y and not an I, I'm still 16 (mentally), and this band is putting out better music than it ever has.
I thought the band's last album, No More Hell To Pay, was the best in the catalog, but that may have changed with Fallen. This record picks up right where NMHTP left off, offering up the heaviest, most well written songs the band has ever done. Michael Sweet might tell you that his high voice is not quite as high as it was, but I would beg to differ. He sounds amazing here. If anything, he has found a way to make his clean and pretty vocal tone just a bit more gritty, which is something I really prayed for from Stryper. The older stuff would often sound like Josh Groban covering Slayer. Michael Sweet is a singer that has divine annunciation skills and a clarity and tenderness often found in a more melodic rock act such as Journey, so his aggression would often sound, well ...sweet. He has somehow found a way to keep his clarity and still sound like he could front a really heavy band. The guy is spectacular here.
One of the biggest improvements to Stryper's sound, especially on the two latest releases, is the fact that their message is a bit more covert. All of the Christian themes are there, but the awkwardness is not. The writing has gotten to where the music accommodates the lyrics in a more organic way. What used to sound a little corny now sounds natural and comfortable.
The guitar work is tighter than ever before here on Fallen, and the music as a whole is like a fist to the face (in the nicest way of course). The band has also left the ballad behind a bit more in recent years. I think this is a step forward for the band. Because of Michael Sweet's natural tone, I think the band takes on a lighter sound naturally; exaggerating that tone by doing an abundance of ballads keeps the calorie count a little too high for me. I like a lean and mean Stryper, and that's exactly what we get with Fallen.
By seeing the band live and reading Sweet's insightful auotbiography, Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed, I have learned that Michael Sweet is probably the most underrated guitar player alive today. Most of the solos you hear in Stryper's songs come from Michael Sweet. Taking nothing away from the brilliance of the band's other guitarist Oz Fox, I can't help but marvel at Sweet and his guitar talents. Whomever we might be hearing on this record, the guitar work both rhythmically and in a lead role is just astounding. There's a chugging and grinding to the guitar sound now that Stryper never embraced in the early years. Not unlike the signature Metallica guitar jog, Stryper has established its own unique form of power. Another element that shines on Fallen is the harmony vocals. It's obvious that the band has given special attention to this aspect of their music. Their harmonies were always excellent, but they are exceedingly rich this time out.
All of these songs are well thought out, excellent hard rock/metal songs, but it's a real treat to hear Sweet sing the line "Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope, do you think he's a fool?" The line, of course, is from the obscure Black Sabbath classic, "After Forever," which the band tackles with great success. Bassist Timothy Gaines has always been a perfect fit for Stryper, and he really gets his Geezer on for this one. So glad to see him in the band, making Stryper a legitimate force.
If you always wanted a heavier Stryper, this album is for you. If you want more of what you loved on No More Hell To Pay, this album is for you. If you want this band at its very best, this album is for you.
This album is for all of us. Let us rejoice and be glad with it.